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Nestlé faces criticism for added sugar in infant milk sold in poorer nations
FoodBev Media

FoodBev Media

24 April 2024

Nestlé faces criticism for added sugar in infant milk sold in poorer nations

Nestlé adds sugar and honey to infant milk and cereal products sold in many poorer countries, a report by Swiss investigative organisation Public Eye has found. Nestlé controls 20% of the global baby food market, valued at nearly $70 billion. With more than $2.5 billion in world sales in 2022, Cerelac and Nido are some of Nestlé’s best-selling baby food brands in low- and middle-income countries. The multinational advertises that these products are essential to children’s healthy development in its main markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Contrary to international guidelines aimed at preventing obesity and chronic diseases, Public Eye uncovered the news after it sent samples of Nestlé’s baby food products sold in Asia, Africa and Latin America to a Belgian laboratory for testing. The results revealed added sugar – in the form of sucrose or honey – in samples of Nido, a milk formula brand intended for use for infants aged one and above, and Cerelac, a cereal aimed at children aged between six months and two years. The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and Public Eye scrutinised around 150 products sold by the food giant in lower-income countries. Almost all the Cerelac infant cereals examined contain added sugar – nearly 4g per serving on average, equal to roughly a sugar cube – targeted at babies from six months of age. The highest amount – 7.3g per serving – was detected in a product sold in the Philippines. Most of the Nido powdered milk products for young children from one to three years old examined also contain added sugar – almost 2g per serving on average. The maximum value (5.3g) was detected in a product sold in Panama. Meanwhile, the report found that such products sold in Switzerland and in Nestlé’s main European markets, are sold without added sugar. World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for the European region say no added sugars or sweetening agents should be permitted in any food for children under three. While no guidance has been specifically produced for other regions, researchers say the European document remains equally relevant to other parts of the world. The WHO warns that exposure to sugar early in life can create a life-long preference for sugary products that increases the risk of developing obesity and other chronic illnesses. Since 2022, the United Nations agency has called for a ban on added sugar in products for babies and young children under three years of age. In a statement, Public Eye said: “Whereas Nestlé recommends publicly to avoid baby foods that contain added sugar, it takes advantage of the weakness of existing regulations to continue selling such products in lower-income countries. Furthermore, the investigation by Public Eye and IBFAN shows that the Swiss multinational uses misleading marketing strategies, such as utilising medical professionals and social media influencers to win the trust of parents in its products." In a statement provided to FoodBev, Nestlé said: "Baby food is a highly regulated category. We apply the same nutrition, health and wellness principles everywhere, which are aligned with international guidelines and regulations. This includes compliance with labelling requirements and thresholds on carbohydrate content that encompasses sugars. We communicate transparently about our products to consumers and always declare the total sugar content of the product." It continued: "Our range of cereals in Europe comes with and without added sugars. The same applies to several markets across Asia, Latin America, and North America, where no-added sugar options are also available to consumers. Slight variations in recipes across countries depend on several factors, including regulations and availability of local ingredients, which can result in offerings with lower or no added sugars. This does not compromise the nutritional value of our products adapted to infants and young children. We have made significant efforts to reduce sugars across our entire portfolio. In recent years, we have reduced by 11% the total amount of added sugars in our infant cereals worldwide." "All added sugars (sucrose and glucose syrup) are being phased out of our growing up milks for young children above 12 months worldwide. We continue to innovate and reformulate our portfolio for infants and young children. We believe in the nutritional quality of our products. We prioritise using high-quality ingredients adapted to the growth and development of infants and young children. Our milk and cereals for young children are fortified with vitamins and minerals such as iron to help tackle malnutrition."

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